The TSP's Smartest Investors Are...

Friday - 9/2/2011, 2:01am EDT

Most people think it is very smart to participate in your company's 401(k) plan. Especially if — like your federal Thrift Savings Plan — it offers a 5 percent match.

So with that in mind, who are the most savvy investors in government?

  • Army, Navy, Air Force and NASA rocket scientists.

  • U.S. Postal Service letter carriers.

  • Researchers at the National Institutes of Health.

  • Scientists for the Centers for Communicable Disease.

  • CIA covert operators.

Well, hard numbers are hard to come by. Hence the expression "hard numbers." Especially when trying to get data from the CIA. But the agency does have excellent, on-going programs to help busy people in far away places get the most out of their benefits, including the TSP. So put them at or near the top of the list.

Uncle Sam has some of the best scientists and researchers in the world. But one thing many of them aren't up on, according to colleagues, spouses and their own HR people, are benefits. " I had one guy who had been here for 17 years ask me if we had sick leave," an NIH staffer said.

An expert who conducts pre-retirement programs (for people within 5 years of being eligible to retire) at a major research institute said that at almost every session "somebody is suprised to learn that they have a retirement program and will get an annuity."

So that leaves — by process of elimination — CIA covert types and letter carriers (your mail man, mail woman or mail person) who may be among the most enthusiastic and smartest participants in the TSP.

Tom Trabucco, director of external affairs for the Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board said that according to the National Association of Letter Carriers, 95 of every 100 members participates in the TSP and contributes at least 5 percent of their salary into some or all of its funds. Trabucco said the postal unions are experienced, smart bargainers "and they don't like to leave money on the table!" Nor, apparently, do their members.

He attributed their investment-savvy habits to the fact that unions have an advisory role in the TSP which, at the end of July was valued at $287 billion. Trabucco was a guest on our Your Turn radio show last Wednesday.

Among other things he said the TSP has nearly 4.5 million participants. About 2.4 million of them are current employees under the FERS retirement program, another 200,000 plus under the older CSRS system, 700,000 members of the uniformed military personnel and 1.2 million former employees (including retirees) who have kept their money in the TSP.

Expanded Investment Options? Trabucco said that Congress has authorized the TSP to offer new investment options and that the last study on it was done in 2006. At the time the TSP board split 2-2 in a vote on whether to offer new funds or outside investment options. So what are the odds? And what's the timetable for a new Roth option within the TSP? Listen to the show, at your option, by clicking here.


NEARLY USELESS FACTOID

Before he created The Checkered Game of Life (the progenitor of the modern-day Game of Life), Milton Bradley was a 19th century lithographer. His claim to fame was a lithograph of then-presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln. However, Life magazine reports the image quickly grew out of favor with the public as Bradley's image captured a clean-shaven Honest Abe.


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